Islamic Human Rights

Many modern Islamic scholars and theologians argue Islam is completely compatible with modern notions of human rights and in fact Islam supports human rights and stands for the same values. These thinkers are at the forefront of the struggle against Islamism and frame their arguments based on Islamic scripture and later sources.

One such movement is the Muslim Reform Movement, comprised of a group of leading opponents of Islamism.

They signed a joint declaration stating their opposition Islamist extremism and their support for universal human-rights values. Nothing in their declaration attacks attempts to revise scripture. It stands in defense of the separation of religion and state and holds that sharia is manmade.

The Association of British Muslims, a UK based organization, made a similar declaration of 10 guiding principles, which include supporting human rights and the separation between religion and state.

Sheikh Usama Hasan, one of the signatories to the Muslim Reform Movement Declaration, wrote a lengthy treatise on the development of Islamic theories of human rights entitled From Dhimmitude to Democracy: Islamic Law, Non-Muslims and Equal Citizenship. It charts the development of sharia in relating to non-Muslims from the charter of Medina to present-day notions of human rights.

In the United Nations, modern human-rights principles were drafted in cooperation with Muslim leaders. Of all Muslim countries in the U.N. in 1948, only Saudi Arabia voted against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However later declarations by Islamic countries such as the Cairo Declaration deviated from mainstream universal human rights by subordinating human rights to vaguely defined “sharia” in key areas, such as women’s rights.

Also the Modern Muslim Marriage Contract drafted by Islamic Scholars grants the wife the right to divorce and to a share of assets. It is promoted by Muslim organizations who are attempting to mainstream it.

Organizations are increasingly supporting human-rights values within an Islamic framework. For example the Lib For All Foundation in Indonesia, co-founded by the late former president of Indonesia Abdurrahman Wahid, supports “the rule of law, an honest and competent judiciary/public administration, free trade, freedom of conscience, free speech, the right to peaceably assemble, the sanctity of contracts and universal education” as the basis for any just society.

Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi in Iran advocates the separation of religion and state based on Islamic principles. He argues religion has no place in government. For this crime he is languishing in prison.

Nor are these human-rights developments a recent phenomenon. During the 19th Century, the Ottoman Empire made a number of modernizing reforms, introducing equality before the law regardless of religion or ethnicity in 1839, abolishing the jizya (tax on non-Muslims) in 1855 and formally introducing a secular constitution in 1879.

Although they were not couched in explicitly Islamic terms, the fact that they were made by a religious state with a legitimate caliph at its head provides a precedent for Muslim states seeking to implement human-rights-based secularizing reforms.

The human rights of minorities in Muslim majority countries were recently the subject of a large conference organized by the king of Morocco in cooperation with the leading Sunni Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah.

The conference resulted in the joint Marrakesh Declaration, in which the assembled scholars committed to affirming the principles of the Charter of Medina, the agreement made between Muhammed and non-Muslim groups during Muhammed’s period of rule in Medina. The declaration called on scholars to advance minority rights and equality for all based on traditional Islamic jurisprudence.

Abdullah bin Bayyah has supported Hamas, previously issuing fatwas in favor of giving charitable donations to jihadis (2012) and fighting American troops in Iraq (2004). Yet the initiative to affirm that rights for minorities in Muslim majority societies are an Islamic principle, is fundamentally praiseworthy and the conference drew support from around the Muslim world.